I've been talking about TOP Management for a while (here, here & here), but I've yet to devote a post to defining the importance and boundaries of this concept. TOP Management includes:
  • Technology: Applications, network infrastructures, and even hard technologies like assembly lines – the quality, access, integration, and support of these systems
  • Organizational Policies, Procedures, and Structures: Approaches to recruitment, hiring (both contract and permanent), training, evaluation, pay and other performance management activities; Team or individual contributor focused structures, layers of management, focus on outsourcing, and the like
  • People: How many of them there are, the skills they have when they are hired, the basics of human reactions (people go towards rewards and away from punishment), their demographic backgrounds, languages they speak, etc.
TOP Management Image The background to this image is the Context: Local or global, leader or follower in industry, pace of industry, types of competition, and so on. Our work is not done in silos – yet much of our technology infrastructure and work practice are built as if it were. Too often discussions of management practice look at technology, people, or organization. Rarely do we see them addressed in a balanced way. Modern management means thinking of ways to weave tools, practices, and employee capabilities into a single strong, yet flexible, fabric. We all need to practice a bit of systems design and have systems savvy, but we need to understand the breadth and opportunities of these broader intertwined systems. TOP Management gives us this breadth. I've been using the Obama campaign as an example of an organization practicing effective TOP Management. They used social media technologies in an organized way. Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's four founders, left Facebook to work on the Obama campaign and this digital outreach worked. In July of 2008, the Nielsen tracking company reported that the Obama campaign website had 2.3 million unique visitors during the month, compared to McCain's 563,000 (pdf of report). Many credit the campaign's fund raising success with their ability to energize a new set of voters in this new way. The campaign understood the technology, they effectively created organizational practices to leverage the technology, and they understood the people who they were trying to reach. Had the Obama campaign used social media in an uncoordinated way (ignoring the organizational aspects), they likely would have failed. Had they ignored younger voters (a particular focus on people), they likely would have failed. Had they ignored the opportunities of the social media technology, they likely would have failed as a key segment of their voters were not paying attention to traditional TV advertising. The value came when they intertwined these dimensions to create powerful new approach to running a campaign. (See discussions of the challenges the Obama administration faces now that they are in office and constrained by Federal limitations on technology use.) The ability to practice TOP Management may be the most important skill a modern manager can have. Having “emotional intelligence,” “soft skills,” and the like are key, but the big impact comes from knowing how to work with technology, organizational practices, and people at the same time. Technology and organizational practice are what allow us to leverage the skill and motivation of our people.